Nurses are Assaulted as often as Police Officers and Prison Guards yet Most Hospitals Fail to Enact Adequate Policies to Protect Employees
Canton, Mass.—On March 18, the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security voted to give S. 1345, An Act Requiring Health Care Employers to Develop and Implement Programs to Prevent Workplace Violence a favorable report.
The bill, which was filed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) and originally sponsored by Senator Jarrett Barrios (D-Cambridge), and now sponsored by Senator James Timilty (D-Walpole) would require hospitals to assess risk factors and develop and implement a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program. In addition, the bill would require hospitals to make counseling programs available to victims of workplace violence.
Workplace violence affects an estimated 1.7 million employees in the U.S. annually, and nurses and other personal care workers are at the highest risk. Health care workers suffer violent assaults at a rate four times higher than other industries and for nurses, it is 12 times higher. In a 2004 survey of Massachusetts nurses, 50 percent indicated they had been punched at least once in the last two years; 44 percent reported frequent threats of abuse; and 25 percent were regularly pinched, scratched, spit on or had their hand or wrist twisted. In fact, nurses are assaulted at work on a par with police officers and prison guards. Yet most hospitals and health care employers in the state fail to adequately address the issue of workplace violence and very often provide little or no support to employees who are attacked on the job.
"We applaud the Public Safety Committee for recognizing the need to provide better protections for nurses and other caregivers from assaults," said Beth Piknick, RN and president of the MNA. "This legislation will dramatically improve the working conditions of nurses throughout the commonwealth. Its progression through the legislature is both timely and necessary, as it is becoming all too common for nurses to be victims of workplace violence. Health care providers need to be held accountable for taking appropriate steps to address this crisis."
The violence prevention bill will now move to the Ways and Means Committee for consideration. The legislature is also considering another bill filed by the MNA, HB 1700, An Act Relative to Assault and Battery on Health Care Providers, which addresses the issue of workplace violence by increasing the criminal penalties for those who commit assaults against nurses. A hearing on the assault bill was held earlier this month by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Both measures have won strong support from law enforcement officials.